Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adventure Down the Rabbit Hole, Part 3: The Queen's Bodice

An Alice in Wonderland needs a Red Queen. As I mentioned before, my oldest decided that she preferred the costume worn by Helena Bonham Carter in the recent Tim Burton version of the classic tale, rather than the standard animated Disney version. I don't blame her - the Tim Burton costume is far more interesting. It is, however, quite an undertaking but since I'm not one to shrink from a challenge, I went with it.

First, we decided on a pattern for a jumping-off point. Simplicity actually makes a pattern for the Red Queen and Alice, based on the movie costumes but I didn't like it and neither did Miss Maeve. It doesn't really do a good job of copying what you see in the film. So I decided to go with McCall's 5954, view E. It has the same type of sleeve as the original, and though it doesn't have a separate corset bodice, I can give it the illusion of one.

The skirt isn't the same as the original, but I'm loathe to have her dragging a full-length overskirt around. I made a sketch to indicate the changes. I'm no fashion illustrator, but you get the idea.

As you can see, there are some small differences from the original. First, I decided to add some hearts in order to make it more recognizable as the Queen of Hearts. My daughter, apparently, doesn't like the idea of being called the Red Queen, since that's a reference to the other Alice book, Through the Looking Glass. The movie happens to be an amalgam of the two, but that's another blog post altogether. Anyway, I figured that not everyone had seen the movie or might remember the costume, so we added a heart at the center of the bodice front, and then hearts along the bottom of the skirt. The original costume has a velvet bodice, with a gold silk center panel. I had some leftover black velvet from another project in my vast fabric stash, so I used that and made the center portion from gold damask upholstery fabric.

The gold is darker than the original costume, but it's as close as I could get without spending a fortune. I couldn't tell from photos online what kind of fabric the over-sleeves were made from, so I went with black taffeta from my stash. The under-sleeve of the original is a black net with an underlining of a light gold fabric. I substituted a bonded lace fabric for this, and it works pretty well.

Of course, the sleeves themselves are decorated with fred ribbons, both on the puffed over-sleeve and on the longer under-sleeve. The originals have some kind of black embellishment on them and I couldn't tell if it was sequins, beads or something entirely different. I decided to use a combination of black sequins and black ribbon roses, and the effect is pretty similar to the original:

I did all this bead and sequin work by hand. It's taken me a while to do it, since I have to do each one individually, but I've been doing this embellishment while waiting for the small ones at gymnastics lessons, and even did some while Miss Maeve was at an Irish dance competition and wasn't dancing. Of course I stopped sewing to watch her dance. Eventually there will be beading on the top portion and all kids of wonderfulness - I hope. I'm kind of running out of time! But I have all morning and afternoon to finish this, plus time at gymnastics tonight, which should be enough, as long as I can get the White Rabbit done today. That one is going together pretty quickly, thankfully.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventure Down the Rabbit Hole, Pt. 2 - Alice

I was planning on starting my Wonderland costume extravaganza with the Queen of Hearts, but that would mean that I need my oldest to be able to drop what she's doing every couple of minutes so that I can fit the muslin of the dress bodice and she's been inundated with homework. Ah, the travails of middle schoolers! Since she wasn't really available, I moved on to the Alice costume, since I knew it would require a bit of hand work for the hems and lining, and I like to have hand sewing to do whilst the small ones are at gymnastics and I sit in the bleachers, watching them.

I made a few alterations to this pattern to make it look the way that I wanted, but not a lot. The only change I made to the dress was the addition of a collar. There are many Alice patterns out there and the one I wanted had a dress with a collar and a separate pinafore. That one wasn't available at my local JoAnn's at the time, so I went with this one:

As you can see, this dress doesn't have a collar and the pinafore is not a separate piece. This pattern actually calls for the bib to be sewn directly to the bodice, with the apron skirt being a separate piece, sewn to a ribbon and then tied around the waist. I knew my Gwyneth was not about to go for that, since she is a stickler for authenticity as much as I am. I recalled a shirt in one of my back issues of Ottobre which has a similar collar and traced that out, but when I tried to see how it would fit with the dress neckline, it was clear that it wasn't going to work. So I skimmed through some other issues with the vague notion that there was a dress with a peter pan collar in one and, to my delight, found this dress:

I traced off the collar piece and added giant seam allowances. Normally I use a 1cm seam allowance with Europeans patterns, but the dress pattern had standard 5/8" seams, so I used that width in order to keep everything the same. The first try didn't work when I tried to attach it to the dress - the curve was too deep for it to lie properly. So I cut off the entire seam allowance and re-pinned it and found that it was the perfect size. Thank goodness, because I didn't have enough of the blue to make another one and was reluctant to go buy more. A make it work moment that worked out.

The pinafore was a different story. First, I curved the neckline slightly and used the size 7-8 for the bib. I wanted the bib to be in front and in back, so I cut 4 pieces and sewed the shoulders together in pairs, then stitched them together along the outer edges. Next I turned them right side out and used bias tape to bind the neckline. Unfortunately for me, the bias tape is slightly yellower in color than the bib of the pinafore, but I didn't notice that until I had sewn it on all the way. It really looked white when held next to the bib, so I'm not sure why there is that subtle color difference. Anyway, I used the pattern piece to cut the correct length of apron but I used the entire width of my fabric in order to make the apron skirt fuller. This was important to me, since the skirt of the dress is really quite full and I felt that the narrower width looked kind of skimpy against it. I gathered the top edge, then sewed narrow hems at the sides.

The pattern calls for a wide ribbon but my kids like their Halloween costumes to be dress-up clothing, and that means they get washed. Ribbons don't launder well, so I made a waist tie out of the same white muslin as the apron skirt and bib. I interfaced the portion that would be sewn to the skirt and bib, then sewed the skirt to one side and the bib to the other. I kind of just made it up as I went along, though I did use the pattern pieces as a guide.

All in all, a highly successful costume, in my opinion. The thing that was great about this one was that it did require a little bit of hand finishing, which allowed me to have some sewing to do while I watch the kids at gymnastics. I hate sitting there with nothing to do and I always feel like I'm wasting time that could be spent in front of my machine. Now that Alice is done, I'm moving on to the Red Queen. I lucked out, because Maeve is getting big enough that I don't have to do as many alterations to the adult-sized pattern in order to make it fit her, so I can pretty much just start cutting out. But I'll talk about that in a different post.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

An Adventure Down the Rabbit Hole, Pt. 1

So it's that time of year again - fall. And that means Halloween is just around the corner, so you know that I'm getting ready to start on a massive amount of costume sewing. Every year, it seems, the costumes get more and more elaborate and I suspect I missed my calling somewhere along the line. This year's sewing promises to be no exception, since the 3 have decided to go as characters from a popular book/movie. And not just any characters, oh no. They have chosen one of the most iconic children's books and characters out there. And no, I'm not talking The Hunger Games and Katniss, although I'm sure Maeve would jump at that if given the chance and she quickly spotted a pattern for it in a pattern book at JoAnn's. No, I'm talking Alice in Wonderland, and the characters of Alice, the Queen of Hearts/Red Queen, and the White Rabbit.

Now, given the ages of my children, it's clear who is dressing as Alice and the White Rabbit and it makes sense. Their costumes really won't be difficult to make, although I plan on making some changes/additions, as always. For T I'll be using the standard McCall's pattern # 6101 for the bunny suit, but I'll also be making a waistcoat (aka, a vest) with a large pocket for his pocket watch (which I am making out of wood) and we'll also have a bow tie or ascot. I'm leaning towards bow tie as that's the iconic Disney animated image; Scott seems to have a fondness for the ascot idea, since the newer Tim Burton version has the rabbit dressed in a shortened version of a frock coat, worn with a waistcoat underneath and a jabot of lace at the throat. My 3 year-old son is probably not going to tolerate a jabot of lace, though he may tolerate an ascot. He's already running around saying, "I'm late! I'm late!"

For Miss G I've also chosen a McCall's pattern, # 4948, mostly because the Simplicity one with the collar wasn't in stock at the JoAnn's I go to and I wasn't waiting for it. Naturally the dress fabric is a lovely sky-blue cotton with a white cotton muslin pinafore. I plan on adding the peter pan collar to the dress, and I'll be making real ties for the apron, rather than using the ribbon ties that the pattern instructions say to use. Add white tights, black Mary Janes and a black headband and you've got classic Alice.

The real challenge, though, is Maeve. She decided to dress as the Queen of Hearts but she wasn't really sure that she wanted to go with the animated version's costume, since she really liked the more Elizabethan look of Helena Bonham-Carter's Red Queen. (photo via: http://alice2010.blogspot.com/2009_07_01_archive.html)

After looking at patterns from which to base this look, I chose McCall's 5954, and then started to think about modifications that would make it look more like the photo above. First, we decided to use black for the bodice, except for the middle portion, which will be gold, with red ribbons to imitate the cording on the corset-style bodice of the movie costume. The sleeve puffs will also be black - either in taffeta or velvet, depending on whether I have enough black velvet in my stash, although taffeta will probably hold the shape better than rayon velvet. The red ribbon trim on the sleeves has some sort of black embellishment but we couldn't find any ribbon like it, so we've decided to sew black ribbon roses to the red ribbon in order to achieve a similar look. The lower half of the original's sleeve is a netting; I found a remnant of light beige-y fabric with a lace overlay that is very similar in look, and also more practical for trick-or-treating on an October evening. The cuffs look like they're made from a dotted chiffon, cut on the bias, but so far I haven't been able to find anything similar to it in the store. Looks like a trip to Hancock Fabrics might be in order. In the meantime, I've seen others' copies of this outfit which have used ruffled eyelet trim, but I think that the cotton looks a bit cheap next to the other types of fabric, even if it does give a similar look. Also, I'm going to have to add some black panels and the white shirt collar portion to the bodice. The only thing I really have to worry about is the size of the collar, but that shouldn't be too difficult to reproduce. I'm also considering a slight deviation from the movie dress by adding a large heart appliqué on the bodice, in order to inject more of the red/hearts theme.

The skirt portion will be more difficult to imitate. In the movie costume, the Red Queen has a red underskirt, with the front panel made of a red with a heart motif in black and gold, and an overskirt in a gold brocade. The pattern I chose has an overskirt that is shorter and draped - more like a polonaise, though they refer to it as a peplum, for some reason.

Dress with a polonaise, via http://historicalfashion.tumblr.com/

I could alter the pattern so that my version has a longer overskirt and then the underskirt, but there are 2 difficulties that present themselves if I do that:

1) This means more fabric, which is expensive and impractical when it comes to a Halloween costume for a 12 year-old. If this were something for a convention, like DragonCon or some other mega event where people would be judging her on a costume's authenticity, then I might. But's Halloween and she needs to be able to move. Also, she'll probably want to wear this at the next feis for Irish Dance, since they're having a costume special event. Extra fabric would get in the way, and I'll need to be able to drape the underskirt up à la polonaise just so that she can dance the reel in it.
2) A large overskirt would require hip rolls to support it, as Maeve has no exactly got large hips. I have no desire to make hip rolls for her to wear or to ask her to wear them. So I'm going with the shorter overskirt.

In order to achieve a similar look to the movie costume, we decided to use a dark gold brocade for all but the front panel of the long skirt. The front panel will be red taffeta with a flocked vine design in black. The shorter draped overskirt will probably be black, but we haven't finalized that. Also, we're giving a nod to the traditional Queen of Hearts' costume with heart appliqués on the skirt. Normally they're on the front panel but we decided to place them around the hem. While this is a departure from the Tim Burton costume, it's a way to reference the more traditional Alice that the other 2 costumes follow. Plus, it's a way of making our own statement, since there's always a risk that people won't make the connection to the newer movie and end up thinking that she's just a queen.

I'm also going to be on the lookout for lace-up granny boots at the thrift store that I can spray-paint gold, and I'll be looking for striped tights or something similar. I'm going to try to document the process of these costumes as much as possible, though I can't promise every detail will be photographed, since I frequently don't know where my camera is. I'll try, though. On with the sewing!